An Interview with Catherine Strode
Since 2005, Lloyd Lewis has been overseeing all operational and financial management issues of the arc Thrift Stores in Colorado. He has built a strong reputation on his financial management prowess, turning a business that was burning cash into a solid source of revenue for all of the state’s Arc chapters. However, his latest undertaking is earning him recognition as an advocate, and, as a dad. In the book Why Not Them?, Lloyd delves into how the experience of parenting his son Kennedy has changed not only his life but also his life’s mission.
How has parenting a child with a disability had an impact on you?
The journey with my son Kennedy has changed what I am passionate about and how I view life. He has changed how I interact with others. It is hard to be around individuals with disabilities or Down Syndrome and not be changed. When I first started working here, (arc Thrift Stores) I met with our employees with disabilities. I would walk away thinking who’s really disabled? Every year we have named three adults on staff with disabilities as heroes of the workplace. For me, they represent perfect employees. They hate to miss work; they love and take pride in their job. They have had a big impact on me. They have made me more gentle with people. I have moved in terms of how I relate to people.
As a new parent, were you aware of the journey Kennedy would take you on?
When Kennedy was born, we did not know he had Down Syndrome. He was a beautiful little boy and weighed five-and-a-half pounds. The only thing we noticed was that he didn’t cry. The doctor whisked him from the room and came back about an hour later. He said, “We have no good news to tell you about your son.” I thought maybe he had died. I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, we suspect he has Down Syndrome.” I said, “Tell me about Down Syndrome.” He said, “Well, it’s like mongolism”. I banned him from the room and consulted some nurses who had good information. My reaction was not anger, depression, or worry, I just thought he was a great kid and would always be a great kid. One month after his birth, I was at a personal development seminar where I stood up and said, “My life’s goal is to raise 25 million dollars for Down Syndrome research.”
How has Kennedy influenced your career?
I was on a much different track prior to Kennedy. I had a long financial career. I had in investment banking. I was Chief Financial Officer for a high tech company. I was recruited to the arc Thrift Stores where I thought I could take my business skills and create programs to help my son and others like him. I had always worked with programmers, PhDs, and engineers. Now, I’m working with people in Thrift Stores. They come to us from many different places. For the most part, I don’t know who has a high school diploma and who doesn’t. Very few people on my staff have college degrees. It’s a different environment than my prior career and frankly, it’s more enjoyable. In my last company before Arc, I worked with 30 PhDs, and 30 engineers. They were not the most appreciative and gracious people in life. Now we work with thrift store employees who love the company and the mission.
“I come from a place of not necessarily being the nicest, easy-going guy, but Kennedy makes me a lot nicer. He makes me appreciate more. I get to see the world through his eyes, which are better eyes than mine.”
What inspired the book?
I wanted to create awareness of the value that people with disabilities bring to their families, to the workplace, and to their communities based on my experience at arc Thrift Stores and with my son. Publishing the book was a way of trying to create awareness of the value of inclusion of people with disabilities in everyday life. When I met award winning co-author Corinne Joy Brown, I felt she brought two things to the table: one, she’s a great writer; and two, she really gets people with disabilities. I thought this would be an opportunity to create a book, create awareness, and help enhance the value of people with disabilities.
Who is the targeted market for the book?
There are two targets. In an ideal world, the book would reach more people who do not have the experience of connecting with people with disabilities. I hope to stir their interest to connect and that the connection would result in children/adults with disabilities being included in classrooms, securing competitive employment, and providing appropriate housing. The other group of people I would like to reach are parents of kids with disabilities, particularly, new parents. The book will remind parents that their kids are valuable contributors and they should be proud.
Where will the profits of the book go?
If the book makes any money, the profits will go into the funding stream of the Arc chapters.
What areas of advocacy do you hope the book will influence?
Multiple areas. Employment: eighty percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. Housing: there is a real need for housing for people with disabilities. Making sure that people with developmental or intellectual disabilities have health support. Most public schools do not do a good job of including children with disabilities in mainstream classrooms. Advocacy is needed across the board in all areas of life.
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.